AP Human Geography Free Response Question Strategies

Unlike some other AP tests, the AP Human Geography exam does not require you to write a long essay with a thesis statement. Instead, you should write organized paragraphs for all parts of the prompt and label each part (A, B, etc.). Do everything you can to make it straightforward for the readers to follow your responses and easily locate your quality content. Make them want to give you those points!

For the 2019-20 administration, each AP course will have a 45-minute free-response exam focusing on the content most schools were able to cover by early March. You’ll take the test from home, on whatever device you have access to. Colleges have agreed to accept this year’s AP scores as they would any scores on full-length AP exams. You can see all CollegeBoard AP updates here.

The 75-minute free-response section consists of three questions. You must answer all three. You do not have the option, as in some other AP exams, to choose the questions that you would like to answer.

Each question will include a geographic scenario and address multiple topics in AP Human Geography; for instance, a question might describe demographic conditions in a particular country and then ask you to relate the topic of the country’s economic development to the topic of its urbanization.

Each question consists of seven tasks, labeled (A)–(G). Although this may sound like a lot of parts to answer, the questions are structured to ask progressively more challenging tasks that will help you think through the prompt and build your answer. For example, Part A may ask you to identify a concept; Part B, to describe an example of that concept; and Part C, to explain how that concept relates to another topic. Some free-response questions will include a source stimulus, such as a map, image, or graph. Question 1 will always have no source stimulus, Question 2 will always contain one source stimulus, and Question 3 will always have two source stimuli to consider.

Unlike some other AP tests, the AP Human Geography exam does not require you to write a long essay with a thesis statement. Instead, you should write a sentence or paragraph for each part of the prompt and label each part (A, B, etc.). Do everything you can to make it straightforward for the readers to follow your responses and easily locate your quality content. Make them want to give you those points!

The College Board has two main criteria for scoring your responses, so keep these criteria in mind as you develop your answers:

  • Analysis: Does your response demonstrate knowledge and critical thinking about the content of AP Human Geography?
  • Organization: Does your response demonstrate a well-thought-out structure that is easy for a reader to follow?

Though you will be scored according to the specific content of each prompt’s rubric, you will be broadly scored based on how well you analyze and organize your responses.

AP Human Geography Free Response Question Pacing

Because each of the three prompts counts equally in your overall score, you should practice pacing yourself to make sure you have adequate time to answer each prompt fully. When practicing, use a watch and devote about 25 minutes to each prompt.

Kaplan AP Expert Tip #1: Treat the Free Response Section as a Marathon

Although 75 minutes can feel like no time at all when you have to write three free-response questions, it is actually a long time for your brain to maintain sharp focus—especially after you have already spent 60 minutes on the multiple-choice questions in Section I. However, if you practice writing, including sticking to the timing and pacing required for Section II, you will build up the necessary stamina and feel much more prepared and confident on the official exam.

You must respond to all three prompts to earn a high score, but the order in which you answer the prompts doesn’t matter. Therefore, begin with the prompt(s) that you feel you can write about most confidently, with the strongest supporting information. Just be sure to label your responses (1, 2, and 3) so the readers know which prompt you are answering. Similarly, label each part of each response (A, B, C, etc.).

Step-by-Step Approach: AP Human Geography Free Response Question

In order to get the best score possible, you should approach each prompt in a methodical, strategic fashion that will ensure that you effectively analyze and organize every response. Work through the following four steps for each prompt.

Kaplan AP Expert Tip #2: Remember to AP-AP

Recall that the steps of the Kaplan Method for Free-Response Questions spell out AP-AP. Follow all of the steps of this easy-to-remember acronym every time you encounter a free-response prompt, both in practice and on Test Day. By making the Kaplan Method second nature, you won’t have to think about what you’re doing and can instead focus on the quality of the content you’re writing.

Step 1: Analyze the Prompt

Take the time to understand the exact requirements of each prompt. Read the question, then reread it to make sure you understand all that is being asked of you. If you don’t address the prompt’s required tasks, it’s impossible to earn a high score.
As you read the prompt, take note of the following components:

  • The content: Consider exactly what topics the prompt addresses and underline key terms. Some parts of the prompt ask for more than one item—perhaps a part might ask for “two examples” or an “example” and an “explanation”—so make sure you cover them all. Pay particular attention to prompts that include a special requirement, such as “make sure to mention the world systems theory in your response.”
  • The action words: Make sure you know exactly what you have to do with the content: “discuss” it, “evaluate” it, etc. Note that some prompts may ask you to do more than one action, such as “identify and explain.” While we often use these action words somewhat interchangeably in conversation, consider carefully how each action word entails a slightly different treatment of the content. Some examples of action words you may encounter, from simple to complicated, include:
    • Identify: simply provide a piece of information o Describe or Explain: fully and clearly lay out the details of something
    • Discuss: fully explain all possible sides of an issue
    • Analyze: discuss what something means and why it is significant o Evaluate: use reasons to support your claim, or make a judgement about something
  • The stimulus (if applicable): Some prompts include a visual such as a map or chart. Because your response must incorporate the information from the visual, you must analyze it just as thoroughly as the wording of the prompt itself. Look at the visual’s title and any labels or map keys, and think about any trends the map or chart data conveys.

Step 2: Plan Your Response

Once you have a good grasp of the prompt, you can start preparing your response, and planning is a very important factor. It is never a waste of time, but rather is a crucial step to creating an analytical response that addresses every part of every prompt. Planning also helps you stay on task, makes it easier for your readers to understand your answers, and allows you to demonstrate your very best analysis. The following are some tips to help you make your plan:

  • Think about what you will write for each part of the prompt. Jot down brief notes—phrases and/or examples—for each part of the prompt. Note what evidence you can use to support each claim you will make.
  • Double-check your notes against the prompt to make sure you didn’t leave out any required tasks.
  • Devote a proportional amount of time to each part of the prompt, depending on the complexity of the required task (i.e., parts that ask for just a definition or example require less time/space).

When practicing free-response questions, you should also practice planning ahead; it only takes a few minutes, and ultimately saves time by helping you write a focused response.

Kaplan AP Expert Tip #3: Be Strategic with the information you provide

Don’t just write as much as you know about the topic of a prompt; rather, respond with information that satisfies each specific requirement. For example, if a part of a free-response prompt asks you to “Describe a population characteristic typical of stage four countries in the demographic transition model,” don’t waste time writing out every population characteristic. Instead, use details to describe one significant characteristic, such as low birth rates. Focus your writing on what the question asks for, and move on!

Step 3: Write Your Response

The writing phase entails filling out in paragraph form the notes you jotted down when planning your response. The following are some general free-response tips:

  • Clearly label each part of the response.
  • Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence. This lets the reader know what to expect and helps keep you focused.
  • Support your topic sentence with full explanations and specific examples, when appropriate.
  • Fully and confidently explain all your ideas. Avoid making vague or broad statements that are not supported.
  • Avoid “filler” or “fluff.” The length of your response has little to do with your score: the quality of the content is what counts. Time is limited, so every word you write should help you earn points.
  • Don’t include your opinion or refer to yourself (“I think the population center moved south because…”). No prompt will ask for your personal views, so only make confident assertions that avoid your opinion, such as “The population center moved south because…”
  • Write clearly and legibly. Readers can’t award points if they can’t read what you wrote. If you make a mistake, neatly cross it out and write your correction. Anything crossed out cannot be scored.

Step 4: Proofread

As time allows, briskly proofread. Your responses don’t need to be perfect, but you should quickly correct any glaring errors that might distract your readers. There’s no time for a complete overhaul of your responses (but if you made a plan, there won’t be a need for one!).

AP Human Geography Free Response Question Scoring

The readers will compare your responses against rubrics that award points for correctly addressing each of the required tasks in the prompts. Although each prompt may be worth a different number of points, each prompt will be weighed equally in your AP Human Geography final score.
The free-response readers are instructed to look for merit in students’ answers and to give credit for responses whenever possible, but you need to supply quality content in your responses in order to earn the most points. It is important to note that points cannot be taken away from you. Once you have scored a point based on the rubric, you cannot lose that point. However, you do not want to contradict yourself or write a rambling, unclear response. Further, note that readers will only consider the first examples you provide: if a prompt asks for only one example, and you write two examples, the first incorrect but the second correct, your second example will not be counted. This is meant to discourage students from guessing in a “laundry list” fashion in the hopes of chancing upon a correct answer.
NEXT: AP Human Geography Free Response Sample Question